Here is the testimony that I gave in support of the Right to Rest at the Colorado State Capitol this week. The bill failed 5-8 after a 10 hour hearing that included 60+ testimonies in favor of the bill and only 4 opposed. The opposition was represented power – the city of Denver, the city of Colorado Springs, and another municipal representative. The support represented powerlessness, and once again, those in power failed to hear the cry of the poor.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the Local Government Committee, my name is Rev. Cole Chandler, and I have worked as both a pastor and service provider through the duration of the unauthorized camping ban at the Denver Catholic Worker House, SAME Café, Hunger Free Colorado and Beloved Community Mennonite Church. Through my experience, I have seen first hand the ways in which this law creates further divisions in our community along socio-economic lines, and drives people on the streets further away from the supportive services that are designed to assist them during periods of homelessness. The unauthorized camping ban does not work. It is impractical, expensive, and ineffective and for those reasons alone, passing the Right 2 Rest Act is essential.
This afternoon, however, I am here to tell a larger story that sheds light on the moral implications of a law that makes it illegal for a certain portion of the population to exist. As a minister in the Christian tradition, my faith is built upon the scandalous story of a homeless, unwed teenager giving birth to God in a cave and laying him in a cattle trough because there was no room for them in the inn.
In all of our Christmas pageantry we romanticize this story as we light up the Courthouse, and parade children down the church aisle dressed like little lambs, but let us not forget, this is a scandalous story of an unwelcomed and vulnerable God being born with no place to lay his head. In the shadow now of Good Friday and Easter we remember that the Prince of Peace did not exit this world with pageantry either, but died a traitor’s death on the Roman Empire’s torture tool called the cross. Jesus was born and murdered in a world where those in power literally made it illegal for him to exist.
God did not put on flesh and enter into the mess of this world simply that we might have our pie in the sky ever after by and by, but that we might be liberated from our bondage and our divisions into what Dr. King called a beloved community where all of our brothers and sisters can live together in peace. God came into the world poor, unwelcomed, and vulnerable, to liberate the fate of the poor, unwelcomed, and vulnerable among us.
And yet, in Colorado, we have made it illegal for that very portion of the population to exist in our midst. In a time of prosperity and growth, we have created laws that attempt to move the poor from our sight. But in a world without affordable housing, with a rising gap between the rich and the poor, where are our friends supposed to lay their head? Where are my friends supposed to move along to?
In times like these, the Right to Rest is the least that we could ask for, and the least that we could give. We need housing, we need jobs, we need community, but today we’re just asking for the right to survive, for the right to exist.
When the records are written on this day in Colorado’s history, how will our story be told? Will we remain in the same narrative of power, privilege, control, and oppression that our forbearers have bought into since the days of Jesus of Nazareth and long before? Or will we opt into something greater – the liberation of the poor, unwelcomed, vulnerable among us – the liberation of all of us into something greater than our present existence, into a beloved community?
How will your story be told? Vote Yes. We all deserve the Right to Rest.